Hazel McHaffie

Hansel and Gretel

Literary drama

Time once again for my annual sortie into the world of play-writing and producing a little drama for my grandchildren – our nineteenth would you believe! The youngsters, as ever, rose to the occasion magnificently, applying themselves to all the activities – from deportment lessons to tasting potions, from sewing bookmarks to deciphering Cockney slang, from picking pockets to exploring archaic texts – with their usual aplomb, and that in spite of half the assembled company still recovering from this really nasty respiratory bug that’s rife just now.

(The stage is a book-filled house and no shots are posed, so what you see is the play as it happens.)

In a nutshell, the story centres on a Johanna Spyri Heidi-lookalike, who is an avid reader.

On this occasion as Heidi loses herself in each book, characters emerge from the shadows and take her into their worlds. Enter The Artful Dodger (Oliver Twist).

… the Black Witch (Hansel and Gretel) and Morgana Pendragon (Merlin).

Titania, Queen of the Fairies (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) works her magic and leads the cast to new adventures,

… exercising a softening effect.

Marmee March (Little Women) lulls everyone into a false sense of security with her homespun wisdom and American notions.

But things then start to really hot up. Enter a fabulously rich and imposing Mr Boldwood (Far from the Madding Crowd) who soon falls prey to the Artful Dogder’s pickpocketing skills.

But even Mr Boldwood can only bow in the face of the whirlwind that is Lady Denny, distinction and breeding oozing from the tip of her bonnet to the toe of her boot.

… who sets about improving the marital stakes for all the young ladies.

It’s left to Little John (Robin Hood) to risk the Lady’s wrath, and rescue The Dodger, making his day with some man-to-man gutsy banter, and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of flaming arrows.

We happily spanned centuries, social milieu, and fictional genres, and everyone went away with an armful of precious books, quite a number of them collectors’ items.

And the moral of the tale?
What terrific advantages these young people have over children from all those earlier periods; not to be taken for granted or squandered. Not least their literary inheritance: books and stories which can open up times and experiences and worlds in wonderful ways.
Treasures indeed.

PS. If you’re a fully paid up member of the anachronism police please don’t bother listing the errors; we already know we took untold liberties. This was a private members only production; the rules of engagement are fully understood.

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Herr Doktor Schrinkenfeldt and Friends

One of my most exciting Christmas presents this year was a dress circle seat for Scottish Ballet’s production of Hansel and Gretel, at the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh on 19th December. It was utterly fabulous – costumes, music, story telling, dance, everything. And I appreciated it all the more because I’d looked at all the videos about what went on behind the scenes; so much vision, so much expertise, so much talent.

Returning to my own Christmas production, Herr Doktor Schrinkenfeldt and Friends, was something of an anti-climax. But then I don’t have a vast team of experts at my disposal; I personally double as scriptwriter, artistic director, costume designer, scene setter, makeup artist, sound effects technician, Uncle Tom Cobley and all – master of none. Which is entirely appropriate given that our audience is limited to nine people, the budget is low and it runs for one day only.

This year the story/play (performed yesterday) revolved around four cousins who find themselves invited to visit a house full of monsters – well, 6 actually – allegedly friends of their Great Aunt Olga, all of whom have wisdom to impart and fun activities to offer.

Along the way the children tasted de luxe sandwiches, made soup from revolting ingredients, adopted fairy companions, painted ceramics, sent magic lights 40 feet into the night sky. As they met each monster, they also learned that they themselves are uniquely special, strong, brave, compassionate and talented. And that parents aren’t actually monsters erecting barriers to communication.

Suddenly after months and months of preparation, my seventeenth Christmas story/play for the grandchildren is over. How does the artistic director of Hansel and Gretel feel as the curtains close for the last time, I wonder? Exhausted but satisfied, I imagine. And already thinking of his next production.

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